State of the Union

Obama on the Economy: It's Awesome! It's Spectacular! It's Squeezing People to Death!

The income inequality obsession leads to whiplash.


Ow, my neck! That was the feeling of whiplash listening to President Barack Obama lavish praise on the current state of the economy while refusing to let go of the progressive canard that income inequality is killing us. Here's how the section of his speech talking about the domestic work market started:

Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We're in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the '90s; an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we've done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.

Anyone claiming that America's economy is in decline is peddling fiction. 

And then we immediately end up here:

What is true?—?and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious?—?is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit and haven't let up. Today, technology doesn't just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated. Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing. It's made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to. And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

I about fell out of my chair from the shift in gears, there.

In reality, he is not being positive enough about the economy. The obsession with income inequality is obscuring the truth: More of the allegedly "vanishing" middle class is moving up the economic scale than down. The concentration of more money at the top includes more Americans, not fewer.  In December, the Pew Research Center put together a report that was titled "The American Middle Class is Losing Ground." But its own numbers showed that headline to be untrue. The decreasing size of the middle class is because of people moving both down and up in economic standings. And more moved up than down.

I'll repost their big chart to the right showing the demographics of who is doing better under this system of allegedly increasing income inequality. Notice that the select, rarefied demographic known as "ALL" saw net gains in income mobility, as have the more selective demographics of blacks, Asians, and women. Millennials are the ones getting screwed (by their wealthy elders) and Hispanics, and those statistics, Pew explained, reflect a rising share of lower-earning immigrants in the adult population. U.S.-born Hispanics saw improvements in their standing as well.

Obama is absolutely correct to say that anybody claiming that our economy is decline is peddling fiction. He no doubt was referring to Donald Trump. But Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are more than happy to try to drive forward that deceptive income inequality talking point to get votes.